Friday, September 30, 2011

Photography basics- 1

So far I have been resisting to write this as I don't consider myself to be having enough knowledge to write even a basic article on photography. But then thought there is nothing wrong in putting what I know which might be useful for few people. It will also serve as a note for myself in case I need to refresh it in the future and someone more knowledgeable might correct my mistakes. So, this is more about summarizing what I know about photography from different sources that I have referred.

I consider good photography as having 3 distinct elements.
1. photography equipments
2. photographic mind
3. understanding of post processing tools

The first one is a religious  topic. I can probably find an answer to the 'best language between Java and C++', but I am sure I can't find an answer to 'the best photographic equipment'. There are a lots of camera brands like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Leica, Olympus etc. All of them have their own mark in the photography industry. Majority of the camera market is dominated by Canon and Nikon. But the rest of them also have very good cameras and able to play in this market so far with their unique offerings. So instead of talking about the brands, I will try to concentrate on other basic things.

All cameras can be broadly classified under 4 types.
1. Point and shoot or compact camera
2. Entry level DSLR
3. Mid range DSLR and 
4. Pro DSLR

Main difference between a compact camera and DSLR is that you can change the lens in DSLR. DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex, which basically stands for the working principle of those cameras. The light coming through the lens falls on a mirror which sits just in-front of the sensor(equivalent of old film) and reflects that light upwards(90°), which will be shown via the optical view finder. While taking the photo, that mirror assembly goes upwards exposing the sensor to the light, thereby capturing the image.
The DSLR - Not working
DSLR operation (source:chucol)

There is another kind of camera called mirror-less interchangeable lens camera which looks very similar to DSLR, but in a smaller size. This doesn't work like DSLR's, Instead of moving the mirror element they adopt another element which redirects a part of the light to the electronic view finder. They are in between compact camera and DSLR which allows you to change the lens, but lighter in size compared to DSLR. Still, they can be  treated same as DSLR and falls in one of the  three categories. No company has yet announced a Pro mirror less interchangeable camera, but it may not be too long to see one. So here onwards when I say DSLR, its a broad category of cameras which allows you to change the lens.
Entry level and Mid range cameras are mainly differed by its price, features and image quality. Pro DSLR's are more costlier and often has a full frame sensor. Full frame sensor makes the camera equivalent to older film cameras. They give the same angle of view as in a film camera for any lens, whereas most of the other DSLRs uses APS-C sensor which is much smaller compared to the full frame. In general they have a crop factor of 1.6, which means a 10mm lens on a full frame camera is equivalent to 16mm on APS-C sensor camera. In other words, Pro cameras gives you a large angle of view covering a larger area for the same lens compared to other cameras. In compact cameras the sensor size is generally even smaller.

In DSLR world, the lens also has a major weight. Probably it is considered more important than the camera body as they last longer and changes in lens technology is lot less compared to camera body. There are different categories of lenses. 
1. Prime lenses
2. Zoom lenses

This category is made based on the lens focal length. In ordinary language, focal length of a camera decides the angle of view of the subject. Lower the focal length, you get a broader view and higher the focal length your view gets restricted, but the range/magnification(how far you can see) increases. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length where as zoom lenses have a range of focal length. If you are having a zoom lens, you can change the zoom level which changes the focal length internally to change your angle of view or to get a closer view of the subject. But if you have a prime lens, you have to move yourself to achieve the same. So, why buy the primes lenses? Because zoom lenses are harder to make and therefore expensive. Also the sharpness and image quality of a prime lens is always better compared to zoom lens.

The other classification is based on the usage
1. Wide angle lenses
2. Normal zoom lense
3. Telephoto lenses
4. Macro lenses

Wide angle lenses have a focal length range of around 8mm-21mm. Anything lesser than 21mm is considered as wide angle (for APS-C sensor) in general, which is around 35mm for the full frame camera. They are generally used for landscape photography. Another use is in real estate where you have to cover the entire room showing it as having a lot of space to fool the customers. Normal zoom range is between 35mm-105mm, which is generally used for street photography. Telephoto lenses are generally used for wild life photography, bird photography and sports. They generally have a longer range between 105mm-300mm or even higher. Sometimes they are also called as Macro as they provide decent subject magnification and can be used for photographing flowers. Macro lenses are generally prime lenses which provides 1:1 image magnification and allows close focussing of the subjects. They are used for flower, insect photography and also for portrait photography sometimes. 50mm Macro lens is good for flowers but you would need 100mm macro for insects and other moving subjects which needs to be focussed with some distance. Otherwise they might get distracted and move making it difficult to shoot.
Most of the kit lenses come with 18-55mm or little longer than that, which covers a short wide angle and normal zoom range. There are lenses with long zoom range like 18-250. But they are generally considered as inferior image quality compared to lenses having a short zoom range. But it mainly depends upon the lens and may not be true for all the lenses.

Apart from the camera and lens, it is also very important to have a tripod and a cleaning kit. And the addition of an external flash probably completes all the basic needs of an amateur photographer.

Having good equipment is just one part of the photography which you can buy by spending some money. But the more important thing is knowing what to shoot and how to shoot. This is more of an art than understanding the technology. There are a lot of established rules which might simplify the process of knowing how to shoot. But there is one rule above all these rules which says 'there are no rules in  photography'. That needs a pure artistic mind to see things differently than others and capture the same. People have taken photographs even 60 years back which are still considered the best. The technology at that time was no where compared to the current one, but not the photos taken at that time. That suggests, you really don't need a high end camera to take good photos. The photos taken by a DSLR need not be better compared to the one taken from a point and shoot camera. Good equipment definitely adds a lot of weight, but it is not the equipment alone that decides a photo.

Finally, it is very important to give a final touch to the photos you have captured before sharing it with others. In the film camera age, people are more careful before clicking a photo as the camera reel and the development used to cost a lot. Taking a photo with digital camera doesn't cost anything, but the people may not be interested in seeing each and every photo that you have clicked. So it is good to select only those distinct photos, make minor adjustments like cropping unwanted areas, changing the contrast, brightness where required. Adding a border might also make the photos look better. There are a lots of free tools to do these basic editing like picasa, picnic, f-spot etc. If you are looking for advanced editing, photoshop and GIMP are the best options. While photoshop is a paid software, GIMP is a free application available for both windows and Linux. The learning curve for GIMP is said to be high compared to Photoshop, but its free and allows almost everything that is possible using Photoshop.

In my next article I will try to cover what are the main things that you need to know in your camera instead of keeping the camera in auto mode, making your camera decide everything about the photo.

1 comment:

Sriram said...

Keep up the good work Satty, waiting for more...